Red Sox must sprint to the finish

BOSTON -- Thankfully, there are only 24 regular-season games remaining for the Boston Red Sox in 2012. It can't end soon enough.

The Red Sox are on the verge of failing to earn a postseason berth for the third consecutive season, after reaching the playoffs in six of the seven seasons before the current drought. That's simply unacceptable. The organization has faltered, with disastrous free-agent signings and much too much finger-pointing the last few years.

Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington took a step in the right direction late last month when he, along with ownership, decided to pull the trigger on the megadeal that sent first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, outfielder Carl Crawford, pitcher Josh Beckett and utility infielder Nick Punto to the Los Angeles Dodgers, freeing up more than $250 million in the process.

With that trade complete, it was obvious the organization had begun to focus on 2013 and beyond. The club, however, did not get the sort of positive push it had been hoping for after the trade with the Dodgers. The Red Sox are 3-9, including a seven-game losing skid, since Aug. 25.

This season, and everything about it, has been a disaster.

"How many different words can you use? It's been disappointing, not up to our expectations, frustrating and sometimes infuriating," Red Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino told ESPNBoston.com on Wednesday. "But for 10 years, we averaged over 92 wins so we helped set the bar at a very high level. If it's broke now, and I've said this over and over, we'll fix it. We're determined to do that and I think we now have the wherewithal, and the opportunity financially to do so."

After a dismal 1-8 road trip, the Red Sox return home for their second-to-last homestand of the season. Boston will face the Toronto Blue Jays in a three-game set before the struggling New York Yankees come to Fenway Park for three games, beginning Tuesday.

So, with this season in complete disarray, there's actually a way to save face for the remainder of the season -- win.

This team and these players need to finish strong to give themselves, and the fans, some positive thoughts going into the offseason. Yes, it's that simple.

Here are a few things to watch for the remainder of the season:

THE BOBBY COUNTDOWN: How much time does he have left as manager of the Red Sox? Contractually, he's getting paid through the 2013 season. At the time of the nine-player trade, it appeared that he might have a 50/50 chance of returning next season. Now, after that dreadful road trip, his odds have dwindled.

PEDEY'S POWER: There's no denying that Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia wants to win badly. Until he went 0-for-3 with a walk Wednesday, he had compiled a 14-game hitting streak. He hit .386 (22-for-57) during that stretch, including seven doubles, two home runs, eight RBIs and 10 runs. He'd also hit safely in 27 of 28 games before Wednesday's oh-fer. If the Red Sox want to make an immediate splash to start the offseason, they should extend the 28-year-old's contract (which expires in 2014 with a club option in 2015) to ensure he remains in Boston for the rest of his career.

PAPI, TOO: It was quite clear what happened to the Red Sox once David Ortiz suffered what now appears to be a season-ending Achilles injury on July 16. His brief return from the DL lasted only one game before he realized the injury hadn't healed well enough for him to continue. Boston is 15-31 without its DH in the lineup. He'll be a free agent once again this offseason, and the Red Sox should quickly offer him a two-year deal worth $30 million. He's become the face of the franchise and has made it known that he wants to retire with the Red Sox.

TRYOUTS: The remainder of this season will also serve as a tryout for every player on the roster. Players like infielder Pedro Ciriaco, outfielder Ryan Kalish, catcher Ryan Lavarnway, shortstops Mike Aviles and Jose Iglesias -- as well as basically the entire pitching staff -- need to prove their worth during these desperate times to show how they can handle the adversity. They will be given ample opportunity to do so.